UNESCO Launches Women4Ethical AI Expert Platform to Advance Gender Equality

Audrey Azoulay
Director General of the UNESCO

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has launched Women4Ethical AI, a new collaborative platform to support governments and companies’ efforts to ensure that women are represented equally in both the design and deployment of Artificial Intelligence, in line with its work to implement global ethical framework for artificial intelligence

Members of the platform will also contribute to the advancement of all the ethical provisions in the UNESCO’s Recommendation.

Today’s digital technologies are reshaping everyday life but women are under-represented in the research and design of these technologies with their needs and experiences also overlooked by designers. Additionally, the data used to train AI is often biased against women and girls. Statistics show that today women and girls globally are 25% less likely than men to know how to leverage digital technology for basic purposes, four times less likely to know how to programme computers and 13 times less likely to file for an ICT patent. Only 20% of employees in technical roles in machine learning companies, 12% of artificial intelligence researchers globally and 6% of professional software developers are women.

Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO Director-General, said: “There is an urgent need to rebalance the situation for women in AI to avoid biased analyzes and to build technologies that take into account the expectations and needs of all of humanity.”

UNESCO has put gender equality at the heart of its Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, the first global standard-setting instrument in this area, unanimously adopted by its 193 Member States in November 2021, to solve this problem. The document, a concrete roadmap for states in establishing their AI policies, plans to adopt a gendered approach to all aspects of AI.

To accelerate the implementation of this objective, UNESCO created Women4Ethical AI, a collaborative platform to support governments and companies’ efforts. The platform brings together 17 leading female experts from academia, civil society, the private sector and regulatory bodies, from around the world. They will share research and contribute to a repository of good practices. It will drive progress on non-discriminatory algorithms and data sources, and incentivize girls, women and under-represented groups to participate in AI.

Gabriela Ramos, UNESCO Assistant Director-General of Social and Human Sciences and co-chair of the platform, said: “With this network of dynamic and committed women, we will make real progress to ensure inclusive and fair outcomes on Artificial Intelligence, as set out in UNESCO’s Recommendation on the Ethics of AI.”

On her part, Alessandra Sala, Director of AI and Data Science at Shutterstock and co-chair of the platform, said: “We must place ethics and equality at the forefront of the AI governance discussion and commit to implementing ethical recommendations as a vehicle to protect human rights, fundamental freedom, and human dignity.”

Among the tools proposed to ensure the inclusion and empowerment of women at every stage of the AI life cycle are budgetary allocations and the provision of support to women in research, academia, and entrepreneurship.

The development, use and deployment of AI systems risk replicating and amplifying existing gender biases and creating new ones: lack of diversity in data, programming teams or approaches leads to biased AI tools that propose discriminatory outcomes. These outcomes are used to take important decisions that impact the everyday life of citizens. One example of the harmful impact of biased data is when medical diagnoses are based on evidence collected only from men.